Only a few weeks into the expansion, factions on many servers have started to engage into “win-trading” for the honor gains in Tol Barad, Blizzard’s latest outdoor PVP zone equivalent of Wintergrasp. To give complete newcomers some background: the theoretical aim of the zone is to conquer 3 keeps and then, to hold at least one of them as defender through the consecutive rounds (games happen every 2 hours) or re-conquer them as the attacker. Now the horde and alliance have struck a deal which is to alternate between winning and losing, or to put it briefly: never bothering to defend after a win.
– Why is that, you ask?
Simply put it’s because that strategy is the most rewarding for players. A large part of PvP, just like a large part of farming the same heroic for the 20th time, are rewards. Yeah there’s the fun of playing with a team and being successful, but erm….rewards! For many or probably most gamers epics/gear/rewards translate into win. You get loot for killing a boss, not for letting him live. In PvP winning and gaining as much honor as you can is (or should be) identical. So if you want to gain as much honor as possible, what you need to do in TB is losing on purpose, every second game. To lose is to win here.
– How can that be, you ask?
Blizzard designed the honor gains in such a way that attacking gives a lot more honor than a successful defense. So much more in fact (10 times to be exact), that there is basically no incentive at all for players to defend, except for “teh fame and glory”. We know how well that one works…
This difference in honor gain is a result of attacking (claiming 3 keeps) being a lot harder than defending just one base. And while that might contain some “realism” (besieging is harder than defending), it opens a whole can of worms in this case.
Players want to attack as often as they can, so their strategy makes a lot of sense: lose your defense, so you can win more attacks. Anyone looking to optimize and with a minimum of mathematical skills would choose this strategy. The issue are not the players: Losing should never be profitable – the system should make you want to win in every case.
I. When failed game design is an exploit
According to Blizzard such “win-trading” is of course and exploit and against the rules. Now I’m a bit of a free spirit maybe, but I don’t call taking the logic road and making a strategic decision a game offers you, an exploit. To me, abuse suggests players making use of some kind of glitch or bug in game design that is there by error. Be it that you climb up a cliff you shouldn’t be able to climb in Alterac Valley because it gives you a fatal advantage, be it that you use levitate in order to cheat the fire in Crusaders’ Coliseum. That’s cheating and doing so knowingly or unknowingly usually matters not (hai there, Ensidia).
What we basically have in Tol Barad is similar to the situation we had through almost all of WotLK: “let’s lose fast”-mentality in battlegrounds. And while I didn’t like that one bit, the truth is that Blizzard made losing too profitable. And I can see where they’re coming from: obviously a lot of BG pugs are from hell and not getting any rewards for losing would seriously put many players off. Oh the whining. We cant have that, so here’s some welfare points.
And that’s why Blizzard gave losers a bit of a reward, enough to keep them going and sadly also to make them wanna lose fast. That issue was never handled like an abuse though, in fact the whole system encouraged it. Only at the very end of WotLK did they finally make losing hurt enough for people wanting to win and not sabotaging BGs anymore (although I guess they still did, there’s no fix for stupid).
Tol Barad, while being a different case, is indirectly suffering from the same effect. Worse still: alternating between wins and losses is the most profitable way to go (because you can’t win attacks several times in a row). How much sense does that make to you? I see a football team before me that gets paid more for losing every second game than bothering to win. If losing on purpose has such clear advantages, losing becomes a legitimate choice. The big difference here is only that players aren’t deciding this in BG-chat, they’re doing so openly on the forums.
Of course you can say now “but it’s illegal, Blizzard hath spoketh” and that’s right. Works just great too, “because I said so” has always been a really powerful argument in a debate. Fear of ban makes for instant insight? Not only can you not control or prove players losing on purpose, it’s a lot of fuss over something incredibly easy to fix. And yeah I’ve read the EULA – does that mean we can’t reason anymore?
After the same logic, anyone in an Alterac Valley or any other battleground, who is standing around chatting, goes to grab a drink during respawn time or stops trying half-way through, is sabotaging the point of the game. Does that make him an exploiter, strictly speaking? What if he has a clear gain from losing? Do we have a moral obligation to win or at least try to win?
II. Blame not – fix! Possible solutions for the unholy alliance
Just so I’ve clarified my personal view: I’m no fan of win-trading and I’ve detested BG sabotage with a passion for years. I want to play PvP properly and get rewards for winning and playing cooperatively (with my own faction), not for losing. I have in fact not had time to partake in more than a single TB game so far which lasted 3 minutes before it was lost. I also don’t condone deliberate exploiting in MMOs.
In Tol Barad’s case however, players are making the most practical choice in order to optimize honor gains and that choice is there by design. Blaming players to play a system that makes no sense to their advantage, makes no sense. If you design a game that nobody wants to win, you fail at designing. Nobody wants to win a TB defense game, only an attack game. So for me, the responsibility lies with Blizzard here: they need to fix this non-sense. I am frankly also a little baffled that they wouldn’t have foreseen this during the months of Cataclysm testing, but maybe they have simply under-estimated the level of cooperation servers are capable of, which Spinks so aptly calls the “miracle of Tol Barad”.
So, how to fix this? Few ideas:
- Harmonize the required effort of attacking and defending. Why does the defender only need to defend one base when attacking requires three?
- Harmonize the honor gains alongside with the requirements; attack and defense should both be profitable. If anything, make the reward for a successful defense slightly higher in order to encourage players to keep ownership. This would make thoughts of win-trading obsolete.
- Abandon the whole re-claiming concept and reset status before every new game. Maybe a more extreme change, but why does there always need to be the defense part? Make both factions go for the same attack game each round.
In a way, all of this reminds me oddly of Ghostcrawler’s commentary on abandoning the 5-second-rule for mana regen in Cataclysm, which can be roughly summarized as: “it makes no sense to reward and motivate healers to stand around and do nothing”. Exactly! There should be no reward for not playing!
Tol Barad, even if not designed to be played that way, indirectly encourages doing nothing. Or rather: Tol Barad rewards cross-faction cooperation more than conflict at the moment. All it takes for this to change are a few small fixes. We’ll see what happens next.